#45: Just Get Over Here

After weeks of travel under the mountains, through Dwarven and Devil territory, we’d finally made it to Reyes. The exit out of Valnan opened into a narrow rockface along the ocean. We had to carefully skirt across it until we’d reached the broader side of the mountain. The dwarves of Ferrerira really knew how to hide their settlements. The mountain was covered in grass and opened into a large field. It was wild to think that less than a month ago, I’d never traveled beyond Anglachel. Gin and I were really, truly adventurers.

There weren’t any obvious roads, but Dara was able to send a message using Divination magic to one of his former classmates at Arcana University that was finishing up his practicum at the magical creature reserve we were headed towards. He instructed Dara to wait next to the mountain, and he would come to pick us up.

“What do you think he’ll pick us up with?” Gin excitedly asked. “Maybe a dragon with a broken wing? Or a herd of alaricorns? Oh, Oh! What if it’s a panther!”

“Don’t even joke about that,” Dara snapped.

“What? I don’t know anything about panthers. Are they scary or something?” Gin asked.

“Your tribe must have similar stories to mine,” I said. As far as I knew, no one had actually seen a panther. At least, no one had seen one and lived to talk about it. They were the sort of things the older folks would scare kids with. “If you don’t eat your vegetables, the panther will come to get you!” That sort of thing.

“Sure, I’ve heard the stories,” Gin answered. “But we’re adventures now! Don’t you want to see one for yourself? They might not be so scary.”

“All I ever learned about panthers at Arcana University is that you don’t want to run into one. The textbooks describe them as ‘cat-like,’ but that’s all it ever says. It would be cool to see one, but there is no way we’re ready for one yet,” Dara explained.

“Let the little guy have his fun,” Tilly said. “It’s not like you say the word ‘panther’ and one appears.”

“You’re right,” Dara said apologetically. “Sorry I snapped at you, Gin.”

“You’re good, buddy. You’re probably right. We’ll see a panther one day, but we probably shouldn’t see one today,” Gin agreed.

Before we could move on to another topic, we saw something bounding toward us from across the field. It looked small at first, but as it got closer, we could tell this was a massive creature. It looked sort of similar to a boar, but it had a much larger nose. It also had different coloring. It had white stripes along its side, like a skunk, but with many more stripes. It galloped in our direction like a horse. A human man rode atop it.

“Dara! Don’t tell me you made friends!” The man yelled in our direction.

“Reggie! How are you?” Dara tried shouting over the pounding hooves.

The large creature came to a stop about two squares away from us. Reggie tossed one leg over the animal and slid down its flank. He tossed a feather in the air before he landed and it slowed his descent. As he landed, he walked in our direction.

“Sorry, I didn’t catch that,” Reggie said. He had tan skin and dark, tousled hair. He had the kind of hair that looked intentionally messy, but you’d think would take all morning to get to look that way. The mud on his work pants and thick button-up shirt indicated that it actually just fell that way on his head. It was infuriating.

“I said that it’s been forever, Reggie! How are you?” Dara said, offering his hand to Reggie. He took it and pulled Dara into a deep hug.

“I’m doing great, buddy. I’m loving it out here. But it is great to see a familiar face. There’s no one around here that looks like me,” he confided.

“That must be hard,” Gin said facetiously since we’d been the only orc and goblin around ever since we’d started our journey. Reggie didn’t seem to get it.

“It really has,” Reggie agreed. “But I can’t believe that little Dara has made a friend, much less three of them. Are you doing an adventuring practicum?”

“Something like that,” Dara said, lowering his head to look at the ground.

“No, we are adventurers!” Gin interjected. “We just fought some imps under these mountains!”

Reggie let out a long whistle. “Traveling through the hells. Dean Constance must have it out for you.”

“Yeah,” Dara said, looking off into the distance.

“So what is this thing?” Tilly said, mercifully changing the subject.

“Oh, this little feller?  This is a Giant Tapir. This one’s just a baby, you can tell from the stripes along its side. The adults have solid-colored flanks,” Reggie answered.

“That’s a baby? It is enormous! How big are the adults?” I said, trying to keep us on this topic a bit longer. I was also genuinely curious. This “baby” was as tall as a large tree in the jungle.

“This guy’s about finished growing. He’s just not lost his stripes. We took this guy in because we found him about a mile outside of the reserve without a mama. She must have been hunted. Poachers can get some good money from their pelts,” Reggie said. He was clearly in his element talking about these creatures. “You said in your message you had something for me?”

“Yea,” Tilly answered. She took the backpack-bed we’d fashioned to keep the gwiber in. The winged snake began to stir and poked its head out of the bag.

“Oh my goodness,” Reggie exclaimed. “What a cutie!”

“I found her just outside of my village. I’m from Éindí Grá,” Tilly elaborated.

“What would a gwiber be doing in Ronan? They usually aren’t found outside of Daragon,” Reggie asked himself.

“We were hoping you might be able to tell us,” Dara said. “Or at least be able to take her off our hands.”

“Yeah, sure,” Reggie agreed. “I’m sure my boss would love to have one of these in the reserve. Arcana University provides funding for each kind of magical creature we house.”

“And she’ll be safe?” Tilly asked.

“Couldn’t be safer,” Reggie assured her. “If there’s anywhere that will make sure she grows up happy, it’s here.”

I visibly saw Tilly take a sigh of relief.

“Shall we?” Reggie offered, gesturing towards the Giant Tabir.

“Definitely!” Gin cried out.

Once we got to the animal reserve, Dara had to go make arrangements with Reggie and his boss. Gin offered to take care of the gwiber until they returned. I think he’d grown attached to the little thing. That left me and Tilly waiting by ourselves on the edge of the reserve. We sat on a fence surrounding a herd of Beag Sheep. It was interesting that we were ending our time together around the animals that first brought us together.

“It’s beautiful here,” Tilly said, looking out at the rolling mountains in the distance.

“Yeah,” I agreed. “Are you going to be o.k. making it back home? Do you want us to go with you?”

“You worried about me, big girl?” Tilly jested.

“We came this far together. It seems wrong to leave you behind,” I said.

“I agree. It seems a shame to leave us behind,” Tilly replied.

“You have become one of us. The team could use someone like you if you’d want to stick around,” I said. I lifted my arm to brush my hair out of my face, but really I was coving up the crimson that was surely spreading across my cheeks.

“Really, Karuk? The team wants me to stick around?” Tilly laughed. “You’re going to have to do me one better than that.”

“I wouldn’t mind if you stuck around either,” I said. I turned my head, finally looking down at her. She had been staring at me, and our eyes met.

“Why don’t you just say that you like me? Do you want me to say it? I like you, Karuk. I want to travel with you to see if this is anything,” Tilly said.

I felt something in my stomach I’d never felt before. Like a flock of birds were flapping away down there. I squatted down to make our faces even.

“Do you care if I. . . “I began.

“Just get over here,” Tilly said, pulling my face to hers. Her lips were soft but demanding. She kept pulling me in for more. Her hand ran through my hair, and I placed my hand on her back and pulled her deeper into the kiss. I didn’t know how much time passed. It could have been minutes, it could have been an hour. Finally, we pulled apart and looked each other in the eyes again.

“That’ll do, Ruki,” Tilly said, smirking.

“I told you only Gin gets to call me that,” I chided.

“We’ll see. I want to check on my girl before we leave her behind. Race you to Gin?” Tilly asked.

“As if you even had to ask,” I said, sprinting past her.

“That’s cheating, Ruki!” she said, chasing after me.


These stories serve as inspiration for the upcoming short story collection, Tyranny of the Fey. The collection will be released in Fall 2023. You can get a $1 preview now!


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